Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Transfer Season

The other day I was standing in line at the grocery store when I overheard a conversation between two people about a priest who was being transferred.
Wow, the season snuck up on me—Transfer Season 2011 is here and in full swing. 

Usually ordinations occur during spring—setting off a series of movements and transfers like dominoes falling.   In the past there would be several new priests all primped and ready to go.  However, today it is a different story in many dioceses.  
None-the-less at least two people were interested in what was going down.
People talking about transfers use to drive me nuts.  It was nothing more than gossip.  For a few days or weeks, priest transfers would take the place of the daily weather in conversations--even among clergy.  Do people talk about the new department manager shifts at Wal-Mart?  Do they talk about new doctors coming into a medical practice?  Well, perhaps—but, let’s face, it there is something mysterious about priest assignments and the whole transfer phenomena. 
The bishop perceives a ministerial need and through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit assigns a priest (In an ideal world).  IF everything (big, big, big IF) goes as planned the priest has about 14 days to pack up, say goodbye, move, and show up.  Some priests thrive on the attention and some buckle under the pressure of transition.  Perhaps the system needs to be changed or tweaked.  As an aside—I don’t buy the “I’m moved” have pity on me cry.  Many of the priests are assigned to parishes where they have a roof over their head, food on the table, and even someone to clean their toilet—free of the worries that many people have.  Right, transfers for a guy aren’t easy—but they certainly are not the end of the world.

Still, why do people chat about this?

Because they are starving.  Starving for spiritual sustenance.  And the priest is their connection.  In our church, our ecclesiology, our sacramental life—the priest is ‘in the person of Christ’.  When I was an active priest I often times forgot that I was always ‘in the person of Christ’.  I believe that the chatter surrounding the arrival or departure of a priest (aside from scandal) is indicative of a much deeper need of the people of God. 

They need a spiritual father—not another fundraiser, program director, or Sunday morning entertainer.  They need someone to model for them fasting and prayer. They need someone who will preach the truth and allow the Holy Spirit to inspire and heal.  They need a priest who will not only spend time in the confessional but will go to confession.  They need a spiritual father who will confront evil. 

So the people talk—out of need.  Either their deep spiritual needs were being met and they hope that the new guy will continue to draw them deeper into holiness—or they talk because they're still on the gossip level and don’t even know they have spiritual needs that have gone unmet for years.  Either way transfer season 2011 is open.